Yesterday I found what must be the worst Hanukkah story ever written -- worse even than "Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins."
Rachel and I were at the library yesterday, picking up the latest book for Niki's book club, returning some old books, and looking for a few new prizes. While Rachel busied herself first with picking out two new Christmas books that we could borrow, I headed over to the holiday section to see if I could locate any good Hanukkah storybooks. (You know that we celebrate Hanukkah, right?)
I wasn't expecting much in the way of bad stories. Hanukkah's picked up steam in America because of its proximity to Christmas, but most Hanukkah stories I've read have been either retellings of the story of Judah the Maccabee or they've been stories about how one person or another celebrated Hanukkah as a child, the personal sort of story that children enjoy hearing and that parents don't mind reading. Since the holiday hasn't been commercialized for that long, I didn't expect anything too hideous, say on the order of "Dora saves Christmas."
We found a couple of those -- one with a potato miracle that parallels the legendary miracle of the oil, and another about a child who comes to appreciate the beauty of her grandmother's homemade menorah -- but I was stunned when I found a Hanukkah story so bad that I think you'd have to be on LSD to enjoy it. (Appropriately, it was written in 1979.)
It's called "The Return of the Golem," a catchy enough title if you're familiar with the legend of the golem. If you're not, the golem was created in the Middle Ages to protect the Jews of Prague against a wave of persecution stemming from the blood libel that they were using the blood of Christian children to make their matzoh.
In this book, it's almost Hanukkah when children see a spaceship land just outside the village. A group of aliens gets out and soon are up to mischief. In no time at all, they head to the synagogue, where they throw books and push over chairs. They find the ark, remove the Torah and put out the eternal flame.
The children run to Rabbi Joseph to tell him what has happened. The rabbi exclaims, "This looks like a job for the golem!" At this point, I half-expected the rabbi to run into a phone booth and pull off his yarmulke to reveal the letters Aleph, Beth, Gimel and Daleth on his forehead, but instead he creates a golem by reciting the Hebrew alphabet. (That's now how it's done.) The golem chases away the aliens, and then goes haywire.
This was about the time I was too busy cracking up to read any more. I took the book up to the children's librarian, who is Jewish, and showed it to her. She read it in bewilderment and then declared, "We're throwing it out."
Still, I find comfort in this. If "The Return of the Golem" can be published, so can anything I write.